It’s the last week before Christmas, and, if your family is anything like mine, it’s anything but calm all through the house. Last-minute presents need to be bought. Grocery store trips need to be made. Christmas traditions need to be planned and executed. There’s a nasty cold front coming our way. Is your house prepared for single-digit temperatures and snow-pocalypse this weekend? Have you coordinated all the comings and goings to ensure your family has a Christmas to remember?
Let’s assume you believe that Christ is the point of Christmas. That fundamental truth may complicate things further. Which church service will you attend? How do you lead your family to focus on Christ amidst the mountain of torn wrapping paper? How do you ensure your reading of the Christmas story doesn’t feel like a perfunctory duty before the main event? It’s a lot of pressure.
You are not the first person to struggle with this tension. As a matter of fact, two sisters felt the same pressure around two thousand years ago. Jesus was in town, and he was coming to their house to teach. Upon his arrival, Mary “sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching,” while Martha “was distracted with much serving” (Luke 10:39-40). This dynamic made Martha angry. Certainly, we can relate to the experience of irritation that comes from being left to do all the work while others sit idly by. But Jesus didn’t rebuke Mary. Instead, he aimed his reproof at Martha: “Marth, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her” (Luke 10:41-42).
What did Mary choose? What is the one thing necessary when it comes to responding to Jesus? I would argue that whatever Mary chose two thousand years ago remains the right choice today. In fact, I want to argue that it’s possible to get so caught up in the busyness of our holiday traditions that we may completely miss the “good portion” just like Martha did. What is the one thing your Christmas really needs—the one thing necessary to prevent you from completely missing the point of it all? Faith.
I’ve been noticing a theme as I read the Christmas accounts. Every single person who received the good news of Christ’s coming to save the world—the message of Christmas—had readied themselves by humble faith. Elizabeth and Zechariah, Mary and Joseph, the shepherds watching their flocks by night, the old man Simeon and Anna the prophetess—all of them received the message of Christmas with faith. In other words, they heard the message as coming from God, and they believed that Jesus was the Christ, the Lord who had come to save them.
And they didn’t just believe once. They kept believing. Mary believed from the moment the angel came to her and kept believing through stretch marks, birth pangs, and labor in the company of animals. She believed as she breast-fed the Lord of the universe and sang lullabies to get him to sleep. She kept believing as he grew up and became a man. She believed as she watched with him die on a Roman cross, and she believed when she saw him rise after three days.
Jesus rebukes lack of faith several times throughout the gospels, but he only commends faith two times. In Matthew 8:5-13, he encounters a Roman centurion who asks Jesus to heal his servant. What was it about this man’s faith that led Jesus to celebrate it? The Gentile centurion did not believe he was worthy of Jesus’s mercy, yet he believed Jesus was capable of great mercy. In Matthew 15:21-28, Jesus meets a Canaanite woman who begs Jesus to cast a demon out of her daughter. What was it about this woman’s faith? She did not believe she deserved Jesus’s mercy, yet she believed Jesus was capable of great mercy.
Do you notice a theme? Faith begins with the acknowledgement that we do not deserve mercy. Next, faith recognizes that, despite what we deserve, Jesus came to give us mercy. Without this kind of faith, you will miss the whole point of Christmas. We don’t deserve Jesus because we’re worse that we’ve ever admitted. We nevertheless get Christmas because Jesus is more merciful than we’ve ever imagined. Do you believe that? It’s the only way to truly celebrate Christmas.